Sara-Jane Dunn, Post-Doc Researcher

Sara-Jane DunnWhat did you dream you would be when you were younger?
When I was very young, I used to want to be an archaeologist. I was fascinated by Egyptian history, and thought that finding mummies and scaling pyramids would be an excellent use of my time. While inspired by the likes of Howard Carter (who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb), I simultaneously realised that by the time I got to be one, they’d probably have found all the cool stuff. Science, on the other hand, still has lots of cool stuff to be discovered…

Why did you become a researcher and how did you go about becoming a one?
I became a researcher because I knew I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. This sums up the approach I have taken at each key stage in my life so far – the decision to study mathematics at University, to enter the world of mathematical and computational biology for my DPhil at Oxford, and ultimately, to apply to and work at Microsoft Research. I’ve had a fairly standard path to get here – no forays into art or trips to India to discover myself – but I stuck to what I enjoyed doing, and it hasn’t gone wrong yet!

What's it like working at Microsoft Research and what do you do?
I’m part of the Biological Computation group, which seeks to understand cells and cellular processes from the perspective of how cells make decisions and carry out information processing. So my days are spent trying to figure out how cells actually work, and if there is a natural way to describe the computation that is being carried out. This work has impacts on crucial areas such as immunology and synthetic biology. Working at Microsoft affords me the opportunity to work with very bright people, and moreover, to learn from them.

What are your aspirations within your role?
Contributions which push the boundaries of knowledge forward within biology are among the most rewarding throughout science, because we are at a stage where we can influence treatments for life-threatening and debilitating conditions such as cancer and heart disease. I think this is what drives most, if not all, who carry out research in this field, because it is only by understanding how biology works that we can understand how it goes wrong. Working within the Computational Science group here at Microsoft places me in an ideal position to contribute, and especially in light of the impact that computer science is about to have on biology.

How has working at Microsoft Research affected your career/research goals?
Working here has opened my eyes more to what is possible to achieve within science, and given me the opportunity to work alongside some very, very clever people. It has allowed me to assess my own skills, to focus on how I can improve, and most importantly, to define the right direction in which to develop and progress.

Tell us an unusual/interesting fact about yourself?
I was once on Blue Peter, and have the badge to prove it!